Monday, March 31, 2014

TESOL International Convention 2014: Day 2 Report

Unfortunately, for my second day at the convention I had a lot planned to attend and see but a headache and tiredness got in the way. However, I managed to mingle more around the publisher and job market area and actually got two business cards out! Haha

What I noticed most was that there are still a lot of positions to teach abroad, as if they could never fill these roles. Saudi Arabia is hiring like crazy and it sounds like once you're hired you can move up in positions as well. Yet, I am not sure I will go abroad again and the one reason why, is Tom. Moving Tom from Korea was a huge deal and I don't want to make him go through with that again. However, if you asked me if I didn't have my cat I would say yes to actually teaching for a year or two in Saudi Arabia. A lot of people talk about how the country has so many restrictions on women and is different that it would be hard to live there. I dunno, I find myself intrigued by their culture and even religion. I'm also enticed by that the whole country doesn't drink, and since I'm not much of a drinker...well wouldn't that be the perfect place?

So as you can see when I wondered the halls of the convention I asked myself where my future employment will be. Also seeing so many participants and people taking everything very seriously I wondered in general about my job options and future track in this career. Yet, I wouldn't mind being one of the presenters at the convention with a team of other teacher's showcasing my good ideas.

While I was walking around the exhibit hall area I happened to find a group of "hipster" looking folks sitting at a table with type-writers.

Apparently, you gave them a topic and they would type you out a poem related to that topic. I stood by as others asked obvious questions like, "Why are you doing this?" "How did you get in here?" and so on. They answered in very artsy I - don't - care speak and then offered their services of creating poems. I took up the challenge and gave them the topic of "Imagined Communities" and returned later for my typed up poem:

I think more "artsy" and fun additions should be included at the convention.

So I did successfully go to one presentation that, to my surprise, allowed me to get a huge discount on a grammar text. The following is my review:

"Teaching Key Grammar with Key Vocabulary" 
Presenter: Keith S. Folse

Keith is from Florida and you could tell he was from the South. Quick to make jokes and poke fun at the profession, along with that "storytelling" demeanour. His presentation was quick and fast but involved some good insights on what to start thinking about when teaching grammar.

He made it a point that to just give labels as answers to grammar questions is not good enough. To ask ourselves what is really going on and why students are making their mistakes. He did make a point that using authentic materials for grammar instruction is not really a good idea. The reason being that students get more than just the grammar you want to teach them but bundled in other language that you may not have time to cover. Something interesting to consider when these days there is a huge push to try using authentic materials in instruction.

Other good points were to use corpus based research to teach common phrases such as "how many / much?" Also to connect grammar with vocabulary, which I am still trying to figure out how.

One good thing I guess was getting a discount coupon for his book "Keys to Teaching Grammar to English Language Learners", which I have started reading. He includes a quiz at the beginning and states that if you can't answer them confidently then you definitely need to train yourself better. I knew going into the quiz that I would likely bomb it, so when I got a 10 out of 20, I wasn't surprised. I hope to keep reading this book and even see results in my classroom instruction.

Otherwise his presentation was a whirlwind of an experience where we were given grammar examples and asked "Which ones are right?" and to discuss amongst ourselves what we thought. I mostly listened as people worked out and kept my hunches to myself. So in essence I enjoyed his presentation and liked that I got the discount, but I think it was presented too quickly and in a rush.

I did try to go to another presentation on grammar around 3pm, but my body and mind were already checked out. Also this presenter didn't teach to what I expected. Her title "interactive grammar materials..." meant that she just used online tools like Blackboard and put up her materials there. Nothing new...sigh.

Thankfully a lot of the presentations have their materials available to download via the TESOL website, and I picked up a lot of them already.

I think next time I would make better sleep a priority and push myself to go to more presentations. But I did find myself understanding better the field and networking by just walking around the Exhibit Hall.

Somewhere in the convention...

Next year the convention will be in Toronto, and I doubt I'll have the resources to go. But we'll see as I haven't been to Toronto and that would be fun.

I'll post up pics and talk about the little outings I had around Portland soon. But the spring quarter has already started (this week) and it looks like it's back to the books for me!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

TESOL International Convention: 2014 / Day 1 Report

I have returned from the TESOL International Convention: 2014 in Portland, Oregon. It was a whirlwind of a time with many great presentations, opportunities to network and see my position in this field.

Wednesday 3/26 Keynote Speech:
The opening keynote speech was presented by Surin Pitsuwan, from Southern Thailand and who has served for the United Nations among other prestigious positions. His speech was very moving and revealing of the changing times in the instruction and use of the English language.

He talked about how language study is a human experience and it involves more than just teaching the language but what goes on between people. Also, he talked about the group ASEAN and that the language they use to communicate across cultures is English, pointing to the importance of English as a Lingua Franca.

But it was his take away point that was most important, that of as teacher's we have a duty to teach more than just the language but to help students communicate effectively within the English speaking world. We are "training future generations" and should "unleash the power of the common language".

Indeed, it was a great opening to a convention with many diverse topics to learn and with a lot of diversity in the house.

My focus for the convention seemed to gravitate towards grammar topics and a certain demographic of students (Middle-Eastern).

Exploring Grammar Across Disciplines for Rapid and Sustained Success
Presented by: Rachel Ramey & Barbara Russell

Description: “Rules: memorize and repeat” is the grammar mantra that has led to a gap between acquisition and production. Make grammar immediately accessible by using the Explore, Define, and Extrapolate model. Participants leave with a variety of proven activities and materials to support their personal implementation in ESL/EFL classrooms.

The presentation given here was definitely an eye opener to ways one could teach grammar and get students and teachers to unpack the content in a more meaningful way. They talked about how it is important to teach grammar in a way that creates "dendrites" which means pretty much that you make connections with students. For example, instead of just teaching the word "blue, blue blue" and saying it and that's it, you connect it to say another word..."blue sky, blue bird...". Basically make connections for students and they'll retain it better.

The above photo shows an example of grammar diagramming where you essentially have students break down the parts of sentences to their parts of speech, which allows them to see more of the connections. I thought this would be an excellent activity for my students and one that could also help me in the process. I think the above example is diagramming with a chart but it can also be down in the following way: Website source

Where are you going?
What were you reading this morning?
Whose bike were you using?
May I postpone this assignment?

I definitely need to look more into this as I can see this being a good tool in the classroom.

Another point they made is to give students a grammar task (breaking it down, finding the use and rules) as a group before presenting it to the whole class. This allows students to work together to unpack the grammar and also find their own meaning and connection. Then the groups can present it to the class or the instructor leads everyone with a discussion on the grammar point.

They also made a final and really good point is that to "sit there until they get it". Meaning don't always just pop in with saying "it's an adverb or it's using the past perfect tense", instead get them to realise these points on their own with some instructor coaching, of course.

Overall, I found this presentation to be well organised and full of useful information.

Addressing Academic and Cultural Adjustment Needs of Iraqi Students
Presented by: Tudy Boldin, Beth Ernst, and Eva Copija

This presentation was probably one of the more enlightening ones and deals with the intersection between learning English and cultural adaptation. They talked about how they have a high Iraqi student body at their school and the scholarship program that these students come on. But mostly they talked about the struggle that they see from these students that they feel comes with living far from home and in a new culture.

The scholarships Iraqi students come on are funded by the Iraqi government and there are some restrictions that apply. For one they must stay for a whole 5 years and not return home during that time. Also if they do fail they must repay the scholarship. So they said this creates a lot of stress in the students to feel like they can't fail and creates a lot of over achievers in their classes.

So far I have not taught any Iraqi students, but I have taught quite a number of Saudi Arabian students, as you know. Therefore, I was attending this talk to make some connections and also here some insights on this emerging group.

They did a survey of their student body to find out what was going on with their students, their priorities, cultural adaptation and transition. However, they didn't really survey students on their conceived notions of American culture or the academic scenarios they were newly a part of. So at the end I asked them about this and they were excited by the topic and considered it for their future survey.

Overall, I took away a sense of the struggles students have living and learning in America when they come from a culture such as in Iraq or in other cultures from that area of the world. For one these students are used to living in a society where there are people always around and their family is right there to help them. So coming to America, where in most cities people just commute from their house to wherever and the streets can seem empty, is probably a shock to them.

Yet, what I did find interesting was when they talked about student's relationship to culture shock and someone in the audience mentioned that this term might just be too western and that their experience might be something entirely different. Certainly, something to think about.

Obviously, I liked this presentation and mostly found myself using the information and skills I learned in my current program to synthesise what I was being told.

Developing Projects Related to Your Course's Textbooks
Presented by: Erica Harris, Ursula McCormick and Julie Vorholt

Description: In this practical, hands-on workshop, IEP instructors describe the development of successful project-based learning utilizing classroom texts, and demonstrate examples from their high-beginning to advanced classes. Next, participants collaborate in small groups to create similar projects based on guided criteria, ending in plenary discussions.
This was a workshop where they gave a presentation first and then we got into groups. I wish I had attended more workshops, but oh and learn.

Here we learned about project-based learning and that getting students to learn outside the textbook is a great way to be engaged. They told us that first when looking at the text (as the source) we should "notice the gap" or what's missing that we could have students expand upon. Then from there we can build a project based assignment. It certainly takes a bit scaffolding but is possible.

They asked us to get into groups by selecting a student level and creating a project-based assignment off a sample text they gave us. I chose the "beginner level" group and have to say it went okay but could have been better. I feel like there is a tendency in this field to situate the lower level students with lower level materials. Sure you don't want to burden low level students with something that would be linguistically difficult, but in my opinion there really aren't any levels. In this case, I think you can give any group of students, no matter what their level, fundamentally complex projects or assignments if you just adjust the scaffolding and prompts that you use. For example, the same project for an advanced class could be used for a lower-level if you scaffold more and just have more prompts and "fill in the blank" activities.

In essence, though I do like the concept of project-based learning and it can incorporate digital tools that students probably already use today.

Poster Sessions Thursday 3/27

I did manage to look at the poster sessions on Thursday and found an interesting mix of topics and presenters. One person who was presenting a poster on teaching Japanese students about the concept of World Englishes had no clue what English as a Lingua Franca was and so I suggested she take a look into that. Otherwise I found the poster sessions hard to get into as people gathered like crazy around them and trying to talk to the presenter was a challenge.


That basically sums up my Thursday experience at the convention and with a lack of good sleep I was ready to hit the hay. I think in essence I learned a lot from this experience and what to do next time I go. I will report on what I saw and learned on Friday in my next blog post, followed by a good little tidbit about Portland, which was a fun city to visit as well.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Painted - Sketched

You might be wondering whether I have been doing any art lately, and the answer is Yes! Despite having my nose in a book most of the time, or on the internet endlessly searching for the best resources I try to find time to express my artistic self.

Lately, I've been doing watercolors of street views (carrying on my regular series). But today I went out to Greenlake and did some sketching (the tree above and the house you will see below pencil).

When the skies clear up here, I have a perfect view of Mt. Rainier and I've told myself "I should draw this view...often!" So today I did that using "Paper" an iPad app and a stylus. I think I'll keep this habit up!

I've gotten into street views lately, of Japan. By using Google maps I can head down the streets in Japan and snap shots for inspiration. I really like how neat and organised everything looks in Japan (strong contrast from Korea).

And then there is the birth of spring coming into clear view everyday as we slowly walk away from winter. I am a strong hater of the winter season, and can't wait till it's really far behind me.

Sketching at Greenlake today was a real hoot! I enjoyed sitting back and really getting into it and just zoning out, letting life's worries not get to me. I also found myself listening to the conversations people had as they walked by and realised that everyone's life seems pretty complex.

Well I am into my "spring break", which is a week off before the next quarter. I've done a lot of reading-ahead already for next quarter, and hope that will be enough to get a good head start. We'll see...we'll always see...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cherry Blossoms at the UW Quad

Last year, Ian told me about how amazing the cherry blossoms were at the UW Campus, but I never went. So I figured this year I'd better go, and I wasn't let down. However, after being blown away year after year of seeing cherry blossoms living in Seoul this slightly made the cut.

Things got sunnier by the time I made it over to the fountain with the water fowl.

What trip to the UW Campus would be complete without a stop over at the Suzzallo library.

Apparently the students at the UW have the great luxury of vending machines in their libraries selling treats, test documents and even post-its.

Everywhere you look now spring is coming out of the woodwork. We are getting patchy sunny days with several rainy days. I'm excited for full on sunnyness to come our way, though!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

One whole year as a grad student

In just about a few weeks I will mark one year since I first stepped into my graduate classroom and embarked on my MA Ed. TESOL program. What have I gained so far? How has this experience been?

Looking back I definitely feel I transformed from a "newbie" to a full fledged self-confident student. When I started I had to crank up parts of my brain that I hadn't used for a while. Turning on those critical analysis tools and getting to work on reading lots and lots of pages. But as the quarters passed I got more into a groove knowing how much time and effort it took for my assignments, and what I have to do to be comfortable. Last quarter proved to be the hardest so far and the most stressful. This quarter felt like the most productive but also the least stressful. I think getting through that tough quarter helped me understand what I need to do to avoid being in a tough spot.

Overall, though I really feel I understand a whole lot more about teaching and linguistics than I did at the beginning. Sure, right now I couldn't drop certain scholars names and sound eloquent about it, but I feel way more confident about the connection between linguistic theories and their application in the classroom.

What does the next year hold?

At the end of this month I'll be attending the 2014 International TESOL Conference in Portland, Oregon. I hope to network and listen to presentations that are relevant to my career path.

Then as the quarters get past me I need to gear up for the Comprehensive Exams that I will have to take this summer. It is a set of essay questions that basically give me the degree when I graduate. Thankfully, one is allowed to retake parts in order to pass.

Overall I do feel like I've come a long way but still wonder if there is more I need to be doing. Like working a part-time job or networking even stronger within my field.

What tomorrow brings I can only hope is shaped by the hard efforts I have made in the past. But spring is practically here in Seattle and soon it will be sandal wearing weather!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My New Friend: Grammar

Leaving Korea and knowing I wanted to teach in America, meant I would have to face the fact that I was going to have to teach "real English". The English I taught in Korea was more secondary, not directly linked to showing form, usage and meaning. I taught math through English my last two years and the ones before that I was basically a parrot for English phrases thrown together in the public school curriculum.

So when faced with the reality of knowing I will need to teach "real English" I knew this meant having a good grasp of grammar. Honestly, I couldn't verbalise the difference to you between an adjective and adverb a year ago. But I definitely can today, and that's because I've been teaching this to my students lately. Of course, I'm not proud that my ability to explain and identify grammar is low. However, I feel like I'm finally able to overcome my fears and poor ownership.

Next quarter I'll be taking a core class on the structures of English. Because I have a huge family event occurring during next quarter I want to get ahead. So I've been reading the book for that class and already it is making me experience tremendous leaps in understanding grammar. What has also been great is that it doesn't just talk about grammar (form, meaning and use) but shows us how and why it all comes together. I guess it is kind of hard to reiterate that into my own words.

But what I really need is the ability to have my own metalanguage of grammar and to teach my students in a way that not only is useful and makes sense to them but also to me. If I don't know what I'm saying than I have a harder time knowing if they are learning anything. The book talks a lot about how students learn grammar and how concepts have changed over time. I really like the new ways of inductive learning and language awareness techniques. For the TESOL conference at the end of this month I seemed to naturally be drawn to the grammar presentations.

I'm also really amazed at myself for being this excited about grammar and feeling a friendlier connection with the subject. I supposed having this confidence will give me a boost in the classroom to face uncertain random questions from my students.
Go Grammar!

My cat lady friend's grammar slideshow...I want to get to this level of understanding!